California Educator

April 2017

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S H E L B Y Z A R AT E was a sophomore when she decided to try something new. Wrestling is not what most girls would have thought of, unless you attend Selma High School. "It helped me become who I am today," Zarate says, noting she lost 60 pounds while on the team. "It boosted my self-esteem. I learned to never give up." e 2015 Central Section Champion and two-time state qualifier is now a sophomore at San Francisco State University. Coach Sam Lopez, Selma Unified Teachers Association, credits high standards, a supportive and respectful school culture, and history for the team's success — in addition to hard work, sweat and determination, of course. e Selma High School Lady Bears captured a second straight California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) state team title this year, an impressive feat since the tournament started in 2011. e team is expected to win state next year, too. Located in a high-poverty school district 20 miles south of Fresno, Selma has rich wrestling history. Girls grew up watching their brothers, then their sisters, wrestle. Two girls participated on the team in 2009. is year 28 girls are on the team. Many are state and national champions, including three who represent the United States on the world team. Selma girls are now being offered wrestling scholarships to college. Selma was one of the first girls wrestling teams in the state and the first program to provide stipends for coaches. Lopez oversees the program. His coaching colleagues are former students and community members. High school wrestlers are state champs By Cynthia Menzel Selma Girls Take It to the Mat 2017 Selma High Girls State Placers • Gracie Figueroa, State Champion (three-time champion; third in world) • Alleida Martinez, State Champion (three-time champion; third in world) • Merijah Morales, Fourth Place • Melanie Mendoza, Fifth Place • Alexis Morfin, Seventh Place Coaches: Sam Lopez (teacher of record), Joey Areyano, Andy Munoz, Jose "Pepe" Mendoza, Ernie Escalera California Interscholastic Federation, Girls compete against girls; practice is coed. Students are expected to work out, eat "clean" — healthy eating with no extreme dieting — and achieve academically. "Our kids have the highest GPA in the county," Lopez says. "Character is important in our program — win or lose. We are provid- ing life learning situations." Wrestling helped him succeed back in the day. "It kept me in education," says Lopez, who admits he wasn't a good student. A coach con- vinced the former 94-pound, 4-foot-11 New Yorker to join during his first year at Valencia High School in Placentia. He was the first in his family to graduate from college. "All kids are looking to be part of something," Lopez says. He invites students who are not on the team to come in after school and work out with the team. "It's better to be in the gym than on the streets." It also gives him a chance to remind them about their homework. Left, Selma High School world team members Merijah Morales, Gracie Figueroa, Alleida Martinez. Above, a winning team. 52 Sam Lopez

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